“What the fuck?” Mitch choked out a noise that was akin to a laugh but not quite. Throwing caution and respect to the wind, he opened it up. There was a small soulless Hallmark blurb about leaving printed on the right side, and on the left was a note from Jodie. Something something ‘The Fed’, a joke about betrayal, a line about Monument being home, and so on and so forth.
Except Mitch couldn’t comprehend any of it. His hands violently shook and his vision blurred as he attempted to read the words. Setting it on the desk before he ruined the card with either his tears or by ripping it to shreds, he continued to rummage, coming across a receipt that contained a few items.
On it: a greeting card.
The date: a few weeks ago.
A dagger to the heart would have been gentler, kinder.
Putting emotions aside, he moved mechanically and found the key, grabbed the cash, and delivered it to the truck. The entire time, his breathing shallow as he focused on keeping it together long enough to-
Fuck, he didn’t know. Not implode? Not break down? The world spun, and he knew that he needed to get away and fast. To make matters worse, his cigarettes were back in his car.
“There you are!” Nate’s voice cut through his thoughts, sending Mitch directly over the cliff that he’d been avoiding for the last few minutes. Thankfully, they were in the parking lot, and currently a good distance away from everyone else.
“When did you get signed?” Mitch asked through his teeth, cutting to the chase.
“Huh?” Nate’s face scrunched, and then dropped. “Oh-“
“You’re going to Florida, right?”
“Which happened first, Nate? You asked me out, and then you got the news? Or was it the other way around?” While he pieced together the timeline, his voice cracked. “You let me-“
“Mitch,” Nate reached for him, but Mitch jolted away.
“You didn’t think to tell me? You just let me…you strung me along? Why? When the fuck were you going to tell me?!”
“I was trying to figure that out.”
“Why didn’t you leave me alone?” He’d now reached full hysterics, and Nate began to shrink. “You had a tryout and you knew, and-“
“I like you, and-and I thought I’d shoot my shot, I didn’t expect to get signed! Mitch, please,” Nate pleaded, again reaching out. Mitch slapped his hand away in a panic, the sharp noise echoing loudly.
“Don’t touch me, you fucking asshole!” He became acutely aware that the raucous drunks near the school quieted down, the silence in the parking lot now deafening. Of course tears welled up in his eyes, because why would his body grant him the decency to be able to wait until he had some privacy. “You know what’s absolutely unreal about this? In the last year, I’ve been cheated on, dumped, injured, and abused by my fucked up ex. But this?” He kicked some loose gravel on the ground. “This might be worse than any of that. Congrats. You win.”
Nate stood frozen in place as he tugged at his hair. “I’m so sorry,” his voice creaked, as if the full weight of the situation settled upon him.
“Get fucked!” Mitch spat, not at all interested in considering anyone else’s feelings while he bled out of his nicked arteries. No longer would he console those that caused him harm.
As he turned around to get into his car, tired of everything -of all of this, of Monument, of his entire life- the sound of feet on pavement hurried towards him, and he braced himself to swing if necessary.
“What’s going on out here?” Avi shouted from a distance, and Mitch flinched when he heard his voice. His legs turned to lead, which kept him from walking any further. Then there was a hand on his back. He knew it was Avi before contact was made, he’d recognize the cologne from a mile away. “Hey, are you alright?” asked Avi as he rubbed small circles. Mitch didn’t answer, and kept his face hidden as shame threatened to eat him alive. “Mitch, what happened?”
How could he even begin to explain any of this? He elected not to, and instead asked, “Avi, do you know how to feed Estrella?”
“Yeah, what’s it- quarter cup of dry twice a day, and half a can of wet in the morning, right?” Avi recited. “Why?”
“I need to go away for a little bit. I’m gonna stay up in Vermont. I can’t be here.”
“Wait, hold on. Talk to me?” Avi requested. His gentle tone, gentle touch, gentle everything. May as well be shards of broken glass impaling every vital organ. “You promised you would, if you needed something,” he reminded.
Mitch shook his head, his eyes squeezed tight. “I can’t.”
“What I need is for you to trust me, because I can’t do this right now,” Mitch begged, finally turning to face Avi and grabbing his shoulders, fingers digging into the muscle as he attempted to convey his desperation. His head hung low, still unable to make eye contact as embarrassment and anguish continued to assail him. “Please, Avi. I need you to do this for me. I’ll be alright, but not if I’m here. Not now.”
Whether seconds or minutes or years passed, Mitch couldn’t tell, but finally Avi surrendered and breathed out “OK” with uncertainty and fear. That may as well have been Mitch’s death knell. In a small, defeated tone, he asked, “Can you please text me when you get there? So that I know you’re safe?”
“Yes,” Mitch agreed, nodding sharply, anything to be granted leave. He ignored the worried look he was the recipient of by impulsively performing faire la bise on Avi, not even aware he’d done it until finishing with the left cheek. “You’re a great friend, I hope you know that,” he choked, then spun around and made a dash to his car before Avi could respond.
In his rearview mirror, he witnessed Avi’s unsuccessful attempt to corral Nate, who turned his back and took off as well.